Friday, December 01, 2006

Why A Heretic’s Blog?

In a recent and not too friendly exchange concerning my alleged affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, two interesting things emerged:

For one, once people have committed themselves publicly to an erroneous assumption and passed judgment on the basis of this assumption, it becomes very difficult for them to back down and recant later, not to mention to actually correct their mistake, even when their basic assumption is shown to be demonstrably wrong. For this reason, and despite the noble efforts of some commenters who actually bothered to do a little background check before jumping to conclusions, to some I now remain a possible crypto-Islamist sent to infiltrate the Democratic crowd in Congress.

The basis for this “nuanced” assumption, and this is the second point that emerged, is the name of this blog – A Heretics Blog. For if I had really seen the light, why did I not call my blog the Apostate’s Blog?

I think this is an interesting question really, and I should attempt to respond to it here, for this might clarify a few things about me, regardless how people will still end up classifying me at the end of the day.

Indeed, why not an Apostate’s Blog, after all, I am indeed an apostate, in the sense that I no longer believe in Islam (or any other religion or that matter)?

This is my two-cents.

While heresy is indeed a necessary transitional phase that every believer has to go through before finally finding himself an apostate, becoming an apostate is not the inevitable end-product of heresy. In other words, heresy is not necessarily conducive to apostasy. Indeed, it could simply lead to new interpretations of the faith, on an individual or communal basis, leading in the latter case to the emergence of schismatic movements within the faith.

In this regard, it is indeed legitimate to observe that the basic tenets of some of these movements might become so radically different from those of the “original” faith, as to represent, from the point of view of a neutral observer, new faith systems. But, and while a neutral academic observer may not have a problem classifying schismatic movements in such manner, the adherents of these movements, and those of the traditional faith, may beg to differ.

For we should be mindful here of the pejorative connotation of the terms: heretic and apostate. Indeed, the protagonists of new interpretations of the faith seldom regard themselves as heretics and/or apostates, these labels are often employed by their detractors, from other schismatic movements or from the adherents of the “original” faith. Believers often see their new interpretation of the faith as a legitimate extension of some original impetus or drive embedded in the faith (the renewalists), or as a return to the original nature of the faith (the fundamentalists and the puritans. Or in modern day parlance in our region, salafis and wahhabis).

Only a person like me, who is out to make a point by issuing a head-on challenge to traditional modes of piety and thought by advocating freedom of conscience, religion, expression and opinion, will be willing to endorse the use of the term heretic or apostate with regard to himself.

Indeed, in my case, I opted for the term heretic, because it was in heresy that I found the instrument of my freedom. If I advocate anything is the right to heresy. Apostasy, on the other hand, and while important to me personally, seems to represent a certain conclusion that may not be suitable to all. Indeed, most other heretics that I know still prefer to adhere to Islam, or to be more specific to their new and heretical version/interpretation of it, which appear much more suitable for the times at hand, from their perspective.

Muslims are not required to abandon their faith all together to be able to adjust to the requirements of modernity. The Christians surely didn’t. For no matter how unsuitable traditional faiths seem from a more rational perceptive, faith remains, in essence, a psychological phenomenon and the human psyche is all too complex and most people are quite capable of working out their own particular mental and intellectual stratagems to balance between the irrational requirements of faith and the all too rational realities of modern daily living.

Be that as it may, we have to bear in mind here as well the fact that not all heretical ventures are actually liberal, not to mention liberating. Indeed, many heresies can be quite disastrous, and tend to be much more problematic than the original faith, which the heretics found wanting. Indeed, Bin Ladin & Co. are quite the heretics, from the perspective of both the adherents to the traditional faith and the renewalists, not to mention the objective academic observer who might find their interpretation of Islam incongruous with the examples set by the “original” founders of the faith. Indeed, the heresies of Bin Ladin & Co. are not exactly what is needed for today’s Muslims to overcome their current helplessness, marginalization and backwardness. On the contrary, Bin Ladenism, its offshoots, and all similar developments in the ranks of the believers, is making life worse for them. But while most believers seem to be aware of that with regard to Bin Laden, things are not that clear with regard to people like Hassan Nasrallah for instance, who might just be far more dangerous, as he manages to bring atavistic heresies into the mainstream of our lives.

Still, heresy is the product of independent thought, and, as such, it’s the only thing that has the potential of freeing us from the clutches of ignorance. Almost every known thinker, philosopher and scientist was a heretic by his days’ standards and perhaps even by ours. It is for this reason that I advocate heresy, while reserving the right of people to take it all the way to apostasy if they want to. By naming this blog of mine A Heretic’s Blog rather than An Apostate’s Blog, I sought to make this point, which, perhaps, may not have been as obvious as I thought.